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Redefining Englishness

Despite recent indications to the contrary, the traditionally cool English exterior masks a generous spirit and an eloquent heart that still beats. Lily and Sue Casson introduce a new playlist that seeks to define 'English' cabaret.

Drafting our press release for a digital festival on the other side of the world recently, we were forced to take a look at our brand from the outside. English Cabaret. What would Australians expect from 'English' entertainment?

There was a time when the English sense of fair play was the envy of the world. It was epitomised by our national game, and played by gentlemen, in a world where rain seldom stopped play. Polite applause always accompanied a decent swing and there was a stonking good tea in the pavilion.

This we decided, was the essence of what we hoped to evoke with our cabaret, a gentle appreciation of the finer things in life, and in our new playlist you won't be disappointed to find both cricket and a rhythmic tea.

At the same time, we are not exclusively looking back with nostalgia - though fans of our work will recognise that this is something we do well, and we couldn't resist including a few of the old favourites amongst our chosen songs. But there are newer songs too. As writers as well as singers and show creators, our stock in trade is originality - new work that is bang up to date, but written in this tradition. We invoke the spirit of the troubadours - telling our ideas in story and song, at the same time as offering a different way of seeing life.

The traditional English qualities of understatement, subtlety and wry humour have taken a battering in recent years as voices struggle to be heard. Expression can become blunter, less nuanced.

But there is another way. Sometimes the still small voice can reveal an underlying truth - with a song or a joke, or just with pure beauty - where you least expect it. We want to future-proof that spirit of Englishness, and encourage people to listen and think afresh.

For listening is vital in a cabaret - or kabaret, the intimate entertainment space that spawned the art. Like the English before us, there is an underlying seriousness to our humour that you might have to lean closer to hear.

Subtle we may be, but in our quiet way we rejoice in eccentricity and individuality, also once regarded as a prerogative of the English. You'll hear this among our chosen songs that span the amusing, the romantic, to the downright idealistic. Our playlist seeks (within the restrictions of our catalogue) to reclaim and redefine what we believe to be Englishness pared to its' essentials. There are songs from past English masters of the art Flanders & Swann, and Vivian Ellis. There's a nod to Noel Coward, and a musical setting of Rupert Brooke, the most English of poets. And there are songs celebrating just what it means to be English - including their infernal preoccupation with the weather. It's an eclectic collection. But what else would you expect from an English Cabaret?

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